Anne Harding Woodworth

Walt’s Notebook

Bed 15

Bandages swaddle him.
Blanket stains curdle.
Wails lift to the crowded-room ceiling,
spread to the hospital walls
that enclose fever.

An orange, please.

I will get him an orange.
Tomorrow. I will squeeze it
into a cup, will hold the zest
to the boy’s nose, let him smell
the leaves, bark, the pulp of it,
sun of the south. I will cup
the boy’s nape into my hand
and hold a tin vessel to his lips.


Bed 59

Delirious, he wants liquorice.
Liquorice or horehound
or rock candy.
I’ll bring him something
for his parched mouth,
something for him fevered
to suck that will
increase his saliva
into the sweetness of infant,
motherless, unable to walk,
guttural in his cries
for the comfort
of liquorice.


Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) lived in DC from 1862 to 1873, working as a clerk at Federal agencies and volunteering as a nurse in Civil War hospitals. Some of his notebook entries have been reprinted in Specimen Days (1882). He wrote in a letter to his brother Jeff, “I cannot give up my hospitals yet. I never before had my feelings so thoroughly and (so far) permanently absorbed, to the very roots, as by these huge swarms of dear, wounded, sick, dying boys—I get very much attached to some of them, and many of them have come to depend on seeing me, and having me sit by them a few minutes, as if for their lives.”


Anne Harding Woodworth lives in DC and is the author of five books of poetry and four chapbooks. Her poetry, reviews and essays appear in Poet Lore, TriQuarterly, Gargoyle, Antiphon, and Crannog. An excerpt from her latest chapbook, The Last Gun (Cervena Barva Press, 2016), won the COG Poetry Prize in April, judged by A. Van Jordan.